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The Cairo Declaration (Ye Xiaogang and Chad Cannon)

April 12, 2016

Cover_CairoDeclarationTHE CAIRO DECLARATION

Ye Xiaogang and Chad Cannon, 2016, MovieScore Media
21 tracks, 57:42

I’d never have heard of this Chinese war-film or its score. As it turns out Ye Xiaogang and Chad Cannon’s work is amongst the finest I’ve heard this year.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Directed by Liu Xing, the film explores one of China’s most important diplomatic moments during World War II, when Chiang Kai-shek met with American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to coordinate military plans regarding the Pacific. The 1943 meeting serves as the backdrop to international intrigue, a story of spies and traitors, as well as a subplot featuring Mao Zedong back in his Yan’an home base.

Chinese composer Ye Xiaogang has a rich career in both film and concert music; whilst Chad Cannon’s contributions to the soundtrack include work on the more action-oriented cues, given his background in the orchestration team of Conrad Pope.

What does it sound like?

The opening notes of “Red Star Over China” immediately recalls Nino Rota’s theme for “The Godfather”, though Xiaogang’s melody does take a different but no less opulent turn after those first few notes. And the score continues in a lavish fashion, as rich strings and twirling woodwinds create a beautiful sense of urgency in “Air Raid”. This may be a ‘war’ movie, but from the onset it seems treated with a (almost old-fashioned) sense of drama and romanticism. The dramatic theme that’s heard during the second half of “Air Raid” is reprised later in “America Enters the War”. There’s something ‘inevitable’ about this theme. Something noble yet reluctant.

Children’s choir adds a poignant touch to “Bombers on the Yangtze”; whilst “Blossoming Romance” offers a very attractive, long-lined theme on the piano, which is joined by strings and solo cello. There is a lovely, kind of reassuring feel to this cue, as the piano is allowed to flow freely. There’s another remarkably charming theme heard in “Mao and the Journalist”. Its jovial nature actually feels a little out of place, lovely though the cue is. My initial reaction was that it reminded me of the song “Que Sera Sera”. Much like the “Godfather” association, it’s merely a fleeting resemblance, but it’s very telling of the melodic approach to this score… And not just that, but also that there is a place for this type of lyrical melodies. It’s the kind of score that Hollywood seems to have fallen out of love with, but that is clearly (and thankfully) still produced elsewhere.

Solo violin adds a solemn touch to “Epitaph”, whilst flute adds intimacy to “Briefing Roosevelt”. Racy strings and woodwinds give title cue “The Cairo Declaration” a sense of urgency, hope and expectation. There’s still a bit of tension throughout most of “War’s End”, but with “The Broadcast” all that is released and we’re allowed to relax with a free-flowing piece for strings, winds and piano.

If Chad Cannon was brought onboard for the action pieces, then I suspect he had a hand in cues like “Assault on Chong Qing”, which relies largely on agitated string ostinati, thumping timpani augmented by brass stabs, and again with these lush melodies over the top. This is action music that underlines the drama as much as it does the action. As the cue builds in intensity and subsequently releases the pressure, you really get the sense that you’re listening to a story. It’s so much more appealing than the endless drum riffs we’ve got to endure in most modern Hollywood movies. Other cues like “Pearl Harbor”, “Japanese Surrender” and “Mao at the Shore of the Yellow River” display a militaristic grandeur through use of snares, powerful brass and ostinato strings, but still they are melody-driven. The album concludes with “Pray” a beautiful song for strings, piano, choir and Chinese female vocalist.

This is a multi-themed score as explained by MovieScore Media:

This story steeped in tragedy is framed by set pieces of grandeur. “Red Star Over China” defines the film with its soaring melody and rich harmony. The political context is represented with a resistance theme first played in”Enemies of the Nazi Regime”; the idea reappears whenever Allied leaders are plotting their next moves. The pastoral theme for Mao’s subplot is somewhat idyllic in its portrayal of the chairman in Yan’an– the theme first appears in “Mao and the Journalist”. Finally we have themes for the Japanese-Chinese conflict in the form of a passacaglia (repeated bass figure), which underscores the devastating aftermath of the “Assault on Chongqing”; a secondary theme in “Spy Arrested” focuses on the psychological effects instead of the physical destruction.

Is it any good?

“The Cairo Declaration” by Ye Xiaogang and Chad Cannon is steeped in drama, nationalism and romanticism. It’s a far cry from the cynical sound-design that permeates so many modern movies and instead gives us an almost old-fashioned work that revolves entirely around its multiple themes. The writing is exquisite and the orchestrations are colourful; I’m not all surprised to read that the 60-year old composer is in the first instance known for his concert works. And whilst the score also shies away from overtly Eastern cliches, it does (of course!) have a Chinese character through it’s harmonies and melodies. The occasional resemblance to familiar themes and songs is only fleeting, but can be a tiny bit distracting (though the two examples I mentioned only appear once each). Also, their jovial style doesn’t quite match the majority of the score. So, you get two or three cues that, lovely though they are, feel somewhat out of place. It is a minor criticism, as this is really a top-notch score. There is much too discover here, both in terms of melody and orchestrations. This has been on my playlist for several weeks now and with each listen I hear something new. I’m sure it’ll remain on my playlist for a further few weeks and may indeed rank amongst the finest I’ve heard this year.

Rating [4/5]

Tracklist:

01 Red Star Over China (2:01)
02 Air Raid (3:38)
03 Bombers on the Yanghtze (2:02)
04 Blossoming Romance (2:48)
05 Assault on Chong Qing (4:56)
06 Enemies of the Nazi Regime (3:14)
07 Mao and the Journalist (1:50)
08 Spy Arrested (2:14)
09 Deliberations (2:27)
10 Pearl Harbor (5:21)
11 Epitaph (1:45)
12 America Enters the War (4:18)
13 Briefing Roosevelt (2:46)
14 Traitor (2:26)
15 Progress (1:46)
16 The Cairo Declaration (3:03)
17 War’s End (2:48)
18 The Broadcast (2:07)
19 Japanese Surrender (1:23)
20 Mao at the Shore of the Yellow River (1:01)
21 Pray (3:48)

For more information visit the MovieScore Media website.


Review (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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